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Rutgers researcher uncovers new gene for fear factor

Rutgers geneticist Gleb Shumyatsky has discovered a gene that controls both innate and learned forms of fear. The gene, known as Stathmin or Oncoprotein 18, is highly concentrated in the amygdala, a key region of the brain that deals with fear and anxiety.

"This is a major advance in the field of learning and memory that will allow for a better understanding of post traumatic stress disorder, phobias, borderline personality disorder and other human anxiety diseases," said Shumyatsky, an assistant professor of genetics at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. "It will provide important information on how learned and innate fear is experienced and processed, and may point the way to apply new therapies."

In collaboration with Nobel laureate Eric Kandel at Columbia University and Vadim Bolshakov at Harvard Medical School, Shumyatsky had previously identified another gene that controlled learned but not innate fear. The new research being reported by Shumyatski, Kandel et al. is the first major attempt to analyze how both learned and innate fear is controlled at the molecular level.

Shumyatsky, his collaborators and their laboratory colleagues have been able to correlate changes in the expression of Stathmin to changes in short-term or long-term strength of nerve impulses and fear responses. They relied on a combination of mouse genetics, cellular electrophysiology and behavior. The team's collaborative findings are presented in the Nov. 18 issue of the journal Cell Online.

Stathmin knockout mice, or mutants bred to be deficient in this gene, showed an increase in the amount of microtubules. These are the building blocks of the dendrite skeleton and also serve as paths for certain proteins to follow, proteins that govern the strength of the connections between neurons (synapses). In the absence of Stathmin, microtubule dynamics (meaning the speed and flexibility of building these paths) are likely to be decreased and may lead to
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Contact: Joseph Blumberg
blumberg@ur.rutgers.edu
732-932-7084 x652
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
17-Nov-2005


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